Bo’s former police chief charged
September 5, 2012
By Leslie Hook and Simon Rabinovitch in Beijing
China has laid charges against the police chief who triggered its biggest political crisis in years, moving a step closer to forming an official verdict on the scandal at its heart.
Wang Lijun, the former police chief in the city of Chongqing in south-west China, has been charged with defection, abuse of power and taking bribes, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.
The charges against Mr Wang come just six weeks before China is expected to hold a Communist party congress where the country’s leaders for the next decade will be unveiled. The party wants to wrap up Mr Wang’s case and the broader fallout from it before the congress takes place.
Mr Wang, who had previously been celebrated in state media for his iron-fist approach to crime, fled to the US consulate in Chengdu, a city near Chongqing, in February with an explosive allegation against the wife of Bo Xilai, his boss, who was party chief of Chongqing and a contender for a top national leadership position. He said Gu Kailai, Mr Bo’s wife, had murdered British businessman Neil Heywood.
Mr Wang’s version of events was ultimately judged to be accurate by a Chinese court that handed Gu a suspended death sentence last month, but the fact that he fled to the US consulate to make the allegations was something that the government could not tolerate. Criminal charges in China almost always lead to convictions.
The court in Chengdu has indicted Mr Wang with “bending the law for selfish ends” by trying to shield Gu from responsibility even though he knew about the murder. He also faces a charge of “defection” for fleeing to the US consulate without authorisation.
The court also moved beyond the Heywood murder, charging Mr Wang with abuse of power for operating illegal surveillance programmes while in office. Mr Wang was known to run an extensive surveillance network, including bugging the phones of other government officials. Lastly Mr Wang was charged with taking “huge” bribes for his personal gain.
Attention will now shift to how the Communist party will handle Mr Bo. Coming from a powerful family with revolutionary roots, Mr Bo had a rare populist touch and was a contender for a position on the politburo, the country’s most powerful decision-making body.
Cheng Li, an expert on elite Chinese politics at the Brookings Institute in Washington, believes Mr Bo could be charged soon on some of the same counts that were brought against Mr Wang, such as corruption and abuse of power.
Because Mr Bo’s dramatic downfall has so clearly exposed the affluence, corruption and abuse of power that pervades many levels of the party, it has sparked a legitimacy crisis for China’s top politicians as they face an increasingly cynical public.
“This is more than factional politics. It is the very nature of the legitimacy crisis,” said Mr Li, referring to the expected trial of Mr Bo. For this reason, Mr Li expects that all political factions “believe they should punish Bo Xilai in a very severe way for the sake of saving their faction and saving the Communist party, but that does not mean that they have the same ideas in terms of real punishment”.
Highlighting the sensitivity of the subject, the terms “Wang Lijun” and “WLJ” were blocked on China’s popular microblogging platform weibo on Wednesday night. Nevertheless some users used puns to comment on the charges.
“We hope to hear his complete statement in court, particularly on why he ‘defected,’” said He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University. “To have to ask for help from the American imperialists when faced with a threat to your life, that is a tragedy.”
Other users appeared to mourn the fate of a man who had come to be seen as a bold truth-teller. Mr Wang, a decorated police officer with a penchant for performing autopsies, was the inspiration of a 1990s television drama called Iron-Blooded Police Spirits and his reputation as a gang-buster earned him the nickname RoboCop.
Wang Lei, a partner in the Cheng Li law firm, wrote: “Governor Wang is really done this time. He saved his life but lost his glory.”
With China’s top leaders jockeying for power ahead of the 18th party congress, which is expected in mid-October, many analysts believe the ultimate outcome for Mr Bo may not be known for some time.